I have returned from Africa to the U.S. and found that while I was away the Indiana state legislature passed and the governor signed the so-called "Religious Freedom Restoration Act." As best I can tell this measure is founded upon FEAR and not religion and certainly not upon FAITH. People are afraid of change, and especially some persons who consider themselves to be religious are afraid that the changes in our society - most notably the legalization of same-gender marriages - may affect their freedom of religion. This fear is part of the over-all fear that government is interfering more and more in our private lives. This fear takes an especially dangerous turn when politicians scare people into thinking that somehow the government is going to force them to engage in practices that might offend their own personal beliefs and practices. The examples given in the political debate seem far-fetched (like a bakery chef having to create a "gay wedding cake"), and so I can only explain this law on the basis of FEAR. People are afraid, and when people are afraid they react (or over-react) in ways that might not be their typical attitudes.
Likewise some of the reactions to the passage of the bill seem to be based upon FEAR - fear that we will somehow go back to the days of segregation and divisions where personal liberties are curtailed and discrimination is legalized. Certainly it would have helped if the "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" would have included language to verify that discrimination is unlawful, and it seems that the governor may want such language passed or added now to "clarify" the law. But the fearful and angry response to the law seems to overlook that we have a Bill of Rights which takes precedence over any state law - which again tells me that people are full of FEAR.
The truth is that FEAR is the opposite of FAITH. Many people think that doubt is the opposite of faith, but not really. Doubt is often the doorway to faith, if only we wrestle with our doubts (and perhaps even with God) in ways that are honest and open and seeking the truth. No, doubt is not the opposite of faith, FEAR is the opposite of FAITH. That is why so many times in the Bible the message of the angels and of Jesus himself is "Fear not," or "peace be with you." The Bible teaches us to overcome our fears with love and faith and trust.
There are places in the world where Christians are indeed persecuted and where fear might be a legitimate response. Ironically in those places many, many Christians have learned to overcome fear with FAITH. The state of Indiana is certainly not a place for Christians live with a persecution complex, and those politicians who try to create such an atmosphere are likely doing so for their own political agenda.
Back to the "Religious Freedom Act." I suspect that this whole thing will be much ado about nothing. I understand that there is already a similar federal law on the books (passed in 1993 and signed by President Clinton), but no court has ever upheld a claim using that law. Several other states have similar laws but they are not used. It will likely be the same here in Indiana. Businesses which want to limit their customer base will lose business. Businesses and individuals who are welcoming and hospitable to all persons will grow and prosper. I am not an attorney, but I can't imagine any successful lawsuits on the basis of this new law. People may sue, and some attorneys will surely take their money to file suit, but that is a far cry from a successful lawsuit. How would anyone prove "damages" or "loss" from their failure to serve a paying customer? Likewise, what customer is going to bother with a lawsuit against a business for refusing to serve them? They will just move on to another business which earns their respect. In the long run, people will learn that hospitality is a good business practice.
Perhaps the only real loss to the state of Indiana will be our reputation. Perhaps some potential new residents will choose to locate elsewhere. Perhaps some businesses will go to other states which are more hospitable to all persons. Most likely those who have supported this new law will be disappointed to discover that it does not insulate them from a changing culture, and then they will move on to some other FEAR to worry about.
As United Methodists our stance is clear as indicated in our Social Principles: We defend everyone's right to freedom of expression of their own religion or personal faith. We also believe all persons are of sacred worth, and so we oppose discrimination against anyone. We hope this law will not allow or encourage any forms of discrimination.
Meanwhile I believe that persons of genuine faith will go about their lives, treating every person as child of God, feeling free to share their own faith in ways that are hospitable and loving, and living in the peace of God. Ultimately FAITH will triumph over FEAR.